Mount Airy High School students experienced a mix of both cutting-edge and old-school technologies during a conference call with students in China Thursday.
The meeting with kids at the Beijing Royal School connected modern mobile devices on both sides of the globe via a dial-up system spurting squawks, squeaks and bleeps, was occasionally disrupted, and would have been reminiscent of the early days of the internet had the students been born during the old days of AOL and CompuServe, which the soundtrack evoked.
Compatibility of hardware between American and Chinese systems was only the beginning of the problem. Internet platforms and apps that were usable in both countries were a challenge.
“All of Google is blocked in China,” said Simon Cawley, a senior who has studied Mandarin Chinese all through high school. “We couldn’t both edit documents in Google Drive. We had to find another way.”
“How companies and businesses deal with this is going to be a huge corporate decision,” said Elizabeth Marion, who did not speak a word of Chinese when the students traveled to China. “I’ve studied Spanish, but I want to build relationships with people in China. I’m interested in software for both countries. Seeing how their businesses are run has really opened my eyes.”
Marion’s goals run parallel to the community strategic plan of the school system.
Businesses in the community (particularly Renfro Corp.) approached the schools, said Dr. Kim Morrison, Mount Airy City Schools superintendent. They said they needed people to work here in Surry County who understood China, its language and culture. “When businesses tells you what they need, you listen.”
In order to further expose students to Chinese culture beyond language study, the Global Partnership Initiative was formed. It is a project of Mount Airy High School and Go Global NC, an organization within the University of North Carolina system, located in Research Triangle Park. Through this partnership, Mount Airy High School connected with Beijing Royal School, an elite private Chinese K-12 boarding school, where students study English from kindergarten through 12th grade, and 90 percent of them are proficient in the language by middle school.
According to Morrison, Mount Airy students can study Mandarin all through middle and high school after having taken Spanish in K-5, so students have the opportunity to graduate from the school system fluent in three languages.
“The goal of Go Global NC is to connect the world to North Carolina and North Carolina to the world,” senior Elizabeth Marion stated in a press release. “The Global Partnership Initiative endeavors to do this through dynamic, year-long school to school partnerships.”
“The Global Partnership Initiative could not have begun without the vision, patience and tenacity of Mount Airy High School,” said Tom Martineau, associate director of Education and Training at Go Global NC. “Mount Airy represents the best of North Carolina, and their desire to share that with the rest of the world, especially China, made this an incredibly successful first year for the Global Partnership Initiative.”
Since the program began at the beginning of the school year, in September, students from Beijing Royal and Mount Airy High have collaborated on a number of projects comparing and contrasting the culture, economies, infrastructures and history of each of their respective cities and countries.
They get together on regular global conference calls to collaborate and present findings, working as best they can around the 12-hour time difference and their various class schedules. Thursday’s call was at 6:45 a.m. for the Mount Airy students, and 6:45 p.m. for the Beijing students. Calls of “Good morning” and “Good night” went back and forth as the call began and ended.
In January, the Chinese students visited Mount Airy, and on their spring break, 24 American students and four chaperones visited Beijing. Lessons were learned.
“We live on our phones,” said Elizabeth Marion. “They don’t. We had no social media while we were in China.”
The Chinese students attend classes from 8 a.m. until 9 p.m. while most of the Mount Airy students are involved in sports and devote a couple of hours a day to that.
“They play sports recreationally,” said Marion, “but quit by junior year to concentrate on their classes.”
Despite this, obesity is not a problem in Chinese young people as it is in the United States.
Marion had an idea to explain the conundrum. “There’s no salt in the food. Nothing is processed. We wouldn’t eat much, it was so filling. The Chinese food here is very Americanized.”
“When you eat a chicken, it’s a whole chicken. Not just the breast like we often eat,” added Simon Cawley. “When you order a fish, it’s the whole fish, head, eyes, scales and all.”
Marion’s Chinese counterpart, Doris, was likewise baffled by Mount Airy cuisine. Though quite a tea drinker, Doris did not think much of sweet tea, according to Marion.
With their senior year almost over, and participation the Global Partnership Initiative almost done, Simon Cawley will be off to Carolina next year where he plans to major in international politics and law, and put his four years of Mandarin to good use pursuing a minor in Chinese.
Grey Tucker is attending Shenandoah University to benefit from their environmental studies program. He will also use his four years of Mandarin study at Mount Airy High to attain a minor in Chinese, which he plans to parlay into a career as a consultant for the Chinese on environmental problems.
And another group of Mount Airy High School students will start all over again next school year in a partnership with their Chinese counterparts on the other side of the world.
Follow the adventures of the Mount Airy High students on Twitter, using #BearsInBeijing.
Reach Bill Colvard at 336-415-4699.